Two-Step Voting

Our election on Tuesday involved a very limited ballot; we voted for Mayor (where the incumbent was running unopposed, which tells you something about the low-key politics in Columbus), City Council seats, a few judges, and a tax levy.  Not surprisingly, turnout was low — which made it a good election to roll out a new, two-step voting system.

3002712465_fa843110d0_zAs an old codger who cut his voting teeth on old metal machines where you moved a bar in one direction to close the curtain, depressed levers to expose a mark next to the candidate of your choice, and then moved the bar back to register your vote with a thunk and open the curtains again, I’m used to changes in the voting process.  I’ve probably voted using about 10 different systems over the years.

The new process involves multiple steps.  After first going to the registration people, showing your driver’s license and signing in, you get a piece of paper that you then present to one of the voting volunteers.  They lead you to a machine, explain the new process, and scan you in.  After you vote on the machine, a paper ballot is printed out, and you walk over to a different area to deposit your completed ballot into a secure box.  The last step is new.  Apparently the new system was introduced to enhance voting security and also to better comply with federal law on accommodating people with disabilities.

The new process worked just fine . . . in an election where the turnout was low and there were no lines to speak of.  But I wonder what it will be like in 2020, where there is likely to be a huge, perhaps even historic, turnout — which is probably one of the few things people at every point on the political spectrum can agree on.  There will be a line to get to the registration table, and then a line to wait for a voting official to walk you to a machine and scan you in, and then presumably wait, again, to deposit your ballot into the secure box.

It’s probably going to be a zoo, which makes me wonder whether I should just plan on doing early voting when the 2020 election rolls around.  It probably would be less of a hassle, but I’m resisting that because I like gathering with my fellow citizens, waiting patiently and solemnly and thinking about what I’m doing, and then exercising my franchise and getting my voting sticker.  It makes me feel good about myself and my country, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up that uplifting, shared experience.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’m ready for a three-hour wait in an election where passions will be running at their highest, either.

A Day Of Expectancy

The polling place in my neighborhood opens at 6:30 Eastern time this morning.  I’ll be there then, ready to exercise my franchise in this election — the latest election to be called The Most Important Election in American History.

vote_here_signs_0By voting on Election Day, I’m late to the game these days.  Many of my friends, colleagues and family members have already voted.  Richard has cast his ballot down in Texas, where early voting numbers have set records, and that’s true in other parts of the country, too.  I think early voting is a great thing, because it provides flexibility and allows more people to participate in the process in accordance with their work and family schedules.  Still, I prefer voting on Election Day itself.  The lines might be a little longer, but there is just something about being at the polls with your fellow citizens, waiting patiently and quietly to have your turn in the voting booth, without accompanying rancor or bluster.  There’s a certain solemnity to it, and a certain majesty, too.  It always makes me feel good about myself, my community, and my country.

I also like Election Day because it is a day of expectancy.  As the day unfolds, you know that millions of little, individual decisions are happening all around you that are slowly producing big, important results.  It’s like a titanic machine with countless small parts, moving ponderously but inexorably in one direction or another — and we’re the little gears and sprockets and cogs that make it go.  Whether we agree with the decisions or not, by the end of the day today we’ll have a pretty good idea of what our fellow citizens are thinking about the country and its direction.

And, especially recently, I like Election Day for yet another reason:  because after today, all of the commercials and predictions and fanfare will be over, at least for a little while, and we can have some breathing space before we start gearing up for the next Most Important Election in American History.  I think we can use some breathing space.

“Off Year”

This year it’s what they call an “off year” election in Ohio. That means we’re not voting for President, or Governor, or Senator, or Members of Congress, or any statewide offices.

I hate that phrase, because it suggests that certain elections are more important than others. I don’t think that’s the case. This year, for example, Columbus residents voted for City Council, the school board, other city offices, and some state court judges. If you believe, as I do, that politics is local, those are some pretty important positions, and I’m glad I had the chance to vote for my choices. And the “off year” elections often are the ones where supporters of this or that try to sneak ballot initiatives past listless voters. That’s not going to happen on my watch!

Some people say “off year” elections are too expensive, but I disagree with that, too. Expecting citizens to go to the polls at least once a year in November to exercise the most important right of all isn’t asking much, and it’s worth a few bucks. If people can’t get off their butts and vote, shame on them.

Long Lines In Ohio

When I got to my voting place at the Schiller Park Rec Center today, I found the longest line I’ve ever seen at a voting place.  This is just the end of it — inside it winds around the corridors of the building like a line for an amusement park ride, where you find a new section of line just as you think you’re getting to the the end.  Total wait time is estimated at 45 minutes to an hour — but everyone is waiting patiently and with good humor.

This is my first presidential election at this voting place, so I can’t make a turnout comparison to past election.  I can say that it makes me feel good to see so many people exercising their franchise, even in an election like this one.  Democracy is a wonderful thing!

Making Up Your Mind: Voting Based On Naked Self Interest

Recently I went out to lunch with Dr. Science.  As has happened in many conversations this year, talk turned to the election.  Dr. Science knows that I am struggling with the decision on who to vote for, and he made an interesting pitch in his ongoing effort to get me to overcome my deep misgivings and vote for Hillary Clinton.

The argument was stated with clinical, Dr. Science-like rationality:  (1) we’ve both worked hard for years to save money for retirement; (2) almost all of our retirement savings is invested in the financial markets; (3) it seems as though everyone involved with the financial markets is forecasting a massive stock market plunge if Trump is elected and a stock market increase if Clinton is elected; and (4) why wouldn’t you want to cast your vote to affirmatively select someone whose election would not crush the value of your retirement savings?

francois_de_la_rochefoucauld_loneliness_2247In effect, Dr. Science was arguing that undecided voters should focus on their own, naked self-interest and vote for whichever candidate they believed would most benefit them personally.  I found his straightforward candor refreshing.  The conversation reminded me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray, after having built the baseball park in his corn field, suffered the sarcasm of his neighbors, and risked losing his farm, asks the ghostly ballplayers:  “I’m not saying ‘What’s in it for me’ but . . . what’s in it for me?”

I’ve never voted for a candidate based on how I thought it would affect me, personally —  I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate who I thought would do the best job for the country as a whole.  There’s something that strikes me as unseemly about focusing solely on self-interest in deciding how to vote.  And yet, with the awful choice presented in this election, maybe naked self-interest should be permitted to tip the balance between voting for someone and not voting at all.

My conversation with Dr. Science was one of several conversations I’ve had with people about deciding how to vote — conversations that I’ve never had before because I’ve always made up my mind early and never wavered.  I’ll write about some of the other conversations in the few remaining hours before Election Day arrives.

“Special” Elections And Manipulation

Today is August 2.  In central Ohio, we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer, when the temperatures hit the 90s, the air is heavy and moist, and walking outside leaves you sodden and sapped of energy.  It’s not the time of year you associate with elections.  But today we’ve got a “special election,” anyway.

voting-machine“Special” might not be the right word.  In Columbus, we’re being asked to vote on precisely one thing:  Issue 1, a proposed amendment to the Columbus city charter that would change the configuration and methods for electing members of Columbus city council.  There won’t be any federal or state offices, or down ballot judicial races, or school levies, or anything else on the ballot.  It will be the quickest exercise in voting, ever.

I’ll be going to the polls, because I’m against Issue 1 and because I think voting is an important civic duty.  Still, I can’t help but wonder why I’m being asked to disrupt my normal schedule and go to my precinct to vote in a special election on a weird date like August 2.  There’s nothing about Issue 1 that is an emergency — indeed, the precincts that would be created if Issue 1 were to pass haven’t even been drawn yet — and in just three months we’ll be going to the polls to vote for President.  Presidential elections traditionally get the highest turnout; the election today will likely attract only a tiny fraction of the voters who will go to the polls in November.  And, according to the Columbus Dispatch, holding a special election to vote on just this one issue will cost the city about $1 million.  So why not save the $1 million, add Issue 1 to the November ballot, and have an important initiative voted on by a larger percentage of Columbus voters?

I’m not sure precisely why City Council set this special election and decided to use money from city coffers to pay for it, but whenever “special elections” are held on odd dates I always wonder whether somebody is gaming the system.  If you can get your pet issue on the ballot for an election held on an unusual date, when people aren’t expecting to vote and turnout will be ridiculously low, and you’ve got a solid core of people who feel very strongly about the issue and will cast their ballots come hell or high water, you’ve substantially increased your chances of reaching the result you’re hoping for.

So today I’ll go to the polls, sign in, press one button to exercise my franchise, get my “I voted today” sticker, and hit the road.  I’ll be glad to cast my vote against Issue 1 — but I can’t help but feel that I’ve been manipulated somehow.

Talking About Trump (Or Conversing About Clinton)

After this week, we’ll begin the final stretch of the presidential campaign between two candidates who have actually been nominated by their respective parties.  I’m glad that the calendar pages are turning, because I just want this election to be over.  I don’t think we can withstand much more of the level of vitriol that’s being hurled back and forth.

I’m not talking about the two campaigns, either.  I’m talking about what we’re seeing from the masses, from our friends and colleagues, from Facebook pages and emails.  You can’t even talk about politics without seeing, and hearing, evidence of it.  Many people obviously find it impossible to talk about the candidates without lapsing into flaming, superheated language — the kind that people don’t easily forget.

hqdefaultThe anti-Trump group loathe The Donald and honestly seem to believe that only utterly ignorant racists and fascists could possibly consider voting for the guy.  The anti-Clinton folks are revolted by Hillary’s duplicity and corruption; they think the media is in the tank for her and the elites are trying to fix the election for her.  It’s coarse and visceral stuff, and a lot of bitterness on both sides is leaking out into our daily discourse.

I don’t care about the two candidates.  They are both egregiously flawed and deserve the strident criticism they’re getting.  No, I’m more concerned about the average people out there who are choosing sides, and doing so in a way that seems to leave no room for quarter or disagreement.  I wonder how many long-time friendships will be ruined and how many families will be splintered by the harsh language and even more harsh judgments.  If you are to the point that you think Trump will be the next Hitler, are you going to want to hang out with a guy who wants to vote him into office — even if it’s a guy you’ve known and worked with for 20 years?

The old saying about the wisdom of not talking about politics or religion has never been truer.  It used to be that people of good will at different points on the political spectrum could have a good-natured discussion about who they were voting for, and why.  I’m not sure that is even possible this year.

In our personal lives, we need to declare a truce, and take politics off the table.  Talk about your kids, talk about your travels, talk about sports — talk about just about anything other than the awful choice that we must make come November.  Hold your fire, folks!  That way, at the ground level of our everyday existence, maybe we’ll be able to make it through this flaming car wreck of an election.